"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." ~Romans 12:15
I still vividly remember the day I discovered I was miscarrying our first child. Although I was fortunate enough to conceive again within a year, and hold that healthy baby safely in my arms, the unspeakable joy of a dream fulfilled did not cancel out the grief of our prior loss. For years afterwards, when the anniversary of that memory rolled around every Valentine's Day, I grieved as if I had just received the news again, even as I celebrated every step, every breath, every inch of my daughter, and then my son, as they grew. It confused me that this was not a simple mathematical equation--it seemed only logical that my past grief should be cancelled out by the arrival of my joyous, even double, blessings.
Finding joy does not negate our need or right to grieve. In fact, rushing past grief into the arms of joy in an attempt to escape the pain of mourning something well is not only unwise, it's unhealthy. We cannot truly heal from wounds unless we attend to them and ignoring them only aggravates them and leaves us open to the risk of more serious conditions.
As followers of Christ, we possess a great hope in that there can be joy not only after grief, but even in and during it. Like many of God's methods, it seems incomprehensible that both can be a reality, but somehow it is. We can hold joy in one hand, even as we are not ready to release grief from the other. Instead of being contradictory, it somehow is actually authentic. At times, to do only one or the other would actually be the inauthentic thing.
For many of us at Real Life, this is our current state and we wrestle with what to do. We feel conflicted, ambivalent, or torn because, on the one hand, there is a lot to grieve. Many of us are still in the throes of navigating painful situations with treasured friends, and some may have even given up trying (at least for now). Others of us lament that the visions we had of what could have been did not come to pass. We do ourselves and each other a disservice if we do not name and recognize these losses.
On the other hand, we also have much to celebrate: the sheer exhilaration of new life and new ventures; new faces that are joining us, curious to see what will happen next and to hear about our Jesus; the sight of families and friends that are rebuilding and restoring a faith community; the hard-won satisfaction of slogging through difficult conversations in order to reconnect and repair broken relationships and a renewed hope for the future.
This is the life of a disciple of Jesus. It is never not messy, it is never easy and there is never a shortcut. Most of all, it is almost always a paradox...the seemingly impossible being true. You could spiritualize our circumstances by saying it was "God's will", or you could demonize it by saying it wasn't. But the only thing we can genuinely and confidently say is God's will is that we are called to "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn."
So how do we do that? It sounds simple, but it's not, especially when sometimes we want to grieve that someone is rejoicing and rejoice when someone is grieving (yes, I confess I've been there). Fortunately, I think there are some hints for us in the verses that surround Romans 12:15.
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse...Do not repay anyone evil for evil." (vv. 14, 17) We may be deeply hurt or offended by something someone (maybe even a trusted longtime friend) has said or done. Grieve that honestly, but focusing on their wrongdoing and seeking revenge only keeps us in our own personal prison and extends our suffering. When you grieve, find safe people who will not judge you or the person who has wronged you. Get the pain and poison out of your heart without passing it on to someone else. When you do, you might even find enough healing to be able to grieve WITH the person who hurt you.
"Live in harmony with one another....If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (vv. 16a, 18) Instead of focusing on what others need to change, which we are powerless to do anything about, we can focus on what we can and need to change in ourselves. This empowered perspective brings healing, healing brings freedom, and freedom brings joy. Take responsibility for our part in things and leave behind the stuff that belongs to others.
"Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited...Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (vv. 16b, 17b, 21) None of us are perfect, and we're even less perfect when we're hurting. But our pride aggravates things by driving us to seek revenge or to make poor choices. Recognizing that we are sinners, just like everyone else--even those people we feel superior to, or the people who make us feel inferior--helps give us the reality check we need in order to take the high road. Although challenging, it is surprisingly empowering to overcome evil with good, and again, with empowerment, comes healing, freedom and joy.
The bottom line is that empathy is infinitely more powerful than agreement, especially in the case of those who have hurt us. We may disagree with others, but grieving when they're grieving can build bridges and connections that will eventually bring us back to rejoicing together.
None of this is a magic formula, but Romans 5:3-4 promises us: "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." The beauty of mourning our losses is that we can and will rejoice in our perseverance, character and hope.